Professional development- that phrase strikes either fear, frustration, apathy, or joy in the hearts of teachers. I am sitting in the middle of my own professional development this summer, and I am stoked, excited, pumped, fueled, and encouraged!! I am working with Teach for America as an Academic Dean at the Phoenix Institute. After three weekend conferences and a week of meetings, I want to share why I (as an experienced veteran teacher) am overjoyed by my hands-on experience with TFA .
Before I explain my rationale for my excitement concerning my affiliation with Teach for America, I want to establish some attitude norms:
- Be open-minded and disregard yourprofessional/personal biases about TFA.
- Think with a “glass half-full” mindset.
- Understand that this is my first experience with TFA; I never was a “Corps member.”
Before I share my hope of how Teach for America can support our experienced teachers, take a moment to take a pulse-check of your school site when you left it this spring. How did the teachers leave……. smiling, happy, excited for the next year, pumped about student achievement and the future of education?? Did some of your teachers quit teaching?? Did teachers make goals to further their professional development throughout the summer?? Personally I observed a few teachers quit the profession, many left the campus feeling dejected and overwhelmed by the new expectations of teachers and students, and the majority were aiming to not open a pedagogical book for the next two months.
So here I am at Teach for America. Yes, I will be using the terms “corps members” and “movement,” which is making some of you roll your eyes already. Remember…….. open minds are expected! For the past week, I have been developing professionally at Arizona State University with the Leadership Team of TFA’s Phoenix Institute. As an Academic Dean, I spent the week absorbing the content of the sessions that I will be facilitating for the Corps Members. Let my exhausted eyes and brain be a testament of the rigor of teacher preparation that these future teachers will receive during our five weeks together. Although I have had experience with professional presentations, TFA’s expectations set the bar higher than I have ever experienced. Rehearsal is required and a high-level of facilitation is expected. Although the feedback was tough to take at times, it has made me expand my concept of presentation facilitation. The level of purposeful questioning and thought-provoking conversations is insightful and inspiring to me as an educator and a lifelong learner. These higher-level critical-thinking conversations are springboards to how to engage the TFA corps members to internalize and apply the foundations of good teaching practices. Having worked with TFA teachers in my workplace, I can attest to the fact that these conversations do instill innovative, inquiring, and humble mindsets. The corps members are ON FIRE about being transformational teachers to help bridge the achievement gap in America. As a teacher who has tried to do this for over a decade, I cannot be offended or taken aback by this “can-do” attitude. I welcome the fresh perspectives from intelligent professionals who are on the same side as all educators— to do what’s best for our students!!
Diversity is a huge part of TFA’s teacher preparation. I have looked across our conference rooms in the past few days and am thrilled and humbled by the representation of diverse groups, and I am not just talking about race. It is exciting to share in the training of these teachers who represent different race, religion, gender, age, college education, etc. Diversity is a huge topic of discussion as the corps members are encouraged to really open their minds and hearts to truly recognize their identity and determine how to honor diversity in the classroom. These are not easy nor light conversations, and yet the participants leave the discussions feeling acknowledged and enlightened. I am excited to see the TFA corps members apply their concept of diversity as they go out in the teaching field this fall.
In conclusion, I still question people’s resentment and hostility towards Teach for America. In this era of teacher turnover, let’s look at this movement with a glass half-full mentality. Yes, these new teachers might leave the profession after two years. But lately I see more and more teachers leaving anyways. Isn’t it refreshing to at least have motivated teachers who have a clear vision and goals for their time in education?? Sometimes mastery cannot be performed through a marathon but during a relay race. Kudos to these young teachers who are passionate sprinters in education. In my eyes, that’s better than a lukewarm marathon teacher!
Stay tuned for my concluding opinion about my experience at Teach for America in late June……..